ChrisWeigant.com

A Wisconsin Centennial Worth Celebrating

[ Posted Wednesday, August 10th, 2011 – 16:42 PDT ]

Since the news this morning out of Wisconsin is a bit depressing for progressives (and Progressives), I thought it was time to mark an important upcoming centennial there. On the first of September in 1911, the first constitutional workers' compensation law took full effect in Wisconsin. The law had been passed on May 3, 1911. By all rights, I should have written about it back then, or waited until September for the anniversary of the law taking effect, but I thought today was a good day to reminisce about when Wisconsin was at the forefront of the Labor movement, instead of where they find themselves today.

Anyone unaware of Wisconsin's role in the Progressive movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries would do well to just skim Wikipedia's history of the Badger State's most famous Progressive, Robert "Fighting Bob" La Follette. Here's just a sample sentence from his biographical entry:

"As governor, La Follette championed numerous progressive reforms, including the first workers' compensation system, railroad rate reform, direct legislation, municipal home rule, open government, the minimum wage, non-partisan elections, the open primary system, direct election of U.S. Senators, women's suffrage, and progressive taxation."

Wisconsin's claim to be the first state to enact workers' compensation is disputed by some, as many states were passing various workers' rights laws at the time (the earliest laws of this nature, passed in the 1800s, merely gave the employee the right to sue an employer for damages if injured on the job). But Wisconsin's claim has something going for it that no other state can claim -- they've got their own stamp:

This "commemorative" stamp was unveiled by President Kennedy in 1961, to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Wisconsin's law, and the ceremony included then-governor of Wisconsin Gaylord Nelson:

Seeing as this was 1961, the stamp actually commemorates "workmen's compensation" instead of the gender-neutral "workers' compensation" it has become today. But whatever you call it, it is worth remembering that what all Americans now consider a right in the workplace had to be bitterly fought over for years before it became the law of the land.

Sadly, though (if this article can be believed), the United States Postal Service will not be issuing a centennial stamp to mark the occasion. Back in 2008, the Wisconsin Division of Workers' Compensation tried to convince the Post Office to issue a new stamp -- to update the one issued in 1961. They submitted this proposal three years in advance, because apparently the Post Office takes a while to make up its mind over new stamp designs.

If the U.S.P.S. has indeed turned down the stamp proposal, perhaps this would be a dandy political issue for Democrats to make some hay over, when Congress returns from its lavish month off on vacation. Why is the Postal Service not honoring the history of workers' rights? Why is the centennial of the first workers' compensation not worthy of a stamp, when it was for the semicentennial?

More to the point, why are the following worthy of stamps this year, instead of Wisconsin's landmark achievement?

A random image of a dolphin
A random image of a bighorn sheep
A random image of some redwood trees
Some sort of neo-Art-Deco image which is supposed to represent "Wisdom"
A decorative coffeepot
The Year of the Rabbit
The Indianapolis 500
Not just one, but two bridges
Kate Smith
And, finally -- you just can't make this stuff up -- Owney the Postal Dog

Think about that for a minute. The postman is honoring a dog with a stamp. And they can't issue a workers' compensation centennial stamp? Quick quiz: which has impacted the lives of more Americans -- being able to work safe in the knowledge that workers' comp exists, or a Chippendale chair? It would be funny if it weren't so outrageous. The Sunday funnies, in fact, did make the cut -- they were deemed more worthy of the honor than the workers' compensation milestone. If you think I'm just picking the most outrageous things the Post Office has put on stamps which they are currently selling, I invite you to view them all for yourself and see what other gems I didn't even mention here.

Whether the Wisconsin workers' compensation achievement gets another stamp or not, though, I would like to wish an early happy 100th anniversary to the concept that workers should be taken care of when they get injured. I invite everyone to visit the Workers Comp Centennial website, to learn the history of this right we all take for granted today. Because 100 years ago (next month) Wisconsin was at the center of the Labor battles in quite a different way than they are today. Back then, Progressives were scoring important victories which have made all Americans' lives better ever since.

-- Chris Weigant

 

Cross-posted at Business Insider
Cross-posted at The Huffington Post

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

 

10 Comments on “A Wisconsin Centennial Worth Celebrating”

  1. [1] 
    LeaningBlue wrote:

    Having already identified LaFollette as a personal political hero in an earlier "Wisconsin" post, I've not much more to add, other than to congratulate you one observing the centennial, which I missed.

    Regarding the recalls yesterday, I don't believe it was by any means crushing, even while "a beat is a beat." But it was disappointing, so I thought maybe a little serendipity might be in order.

    The real reason for this post is to identify a real opportunity for Texas governor Perry to further define himself . There's a bison loose in the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. The cranky buffalo defected from an adjoining ranch, and has defied attempts to down it with a tranquilizer gun, and true to its species, is decidedly misanthropic.

    Aligning with the city's motto of "Keep Austin Wierd," I'm told the buffalo now has its own Twitter (account?, name?, page? whatever) where its movements within the expanse of the Center can be followed.

    Now, how might the gov step in? The same way he intervened when an urban coyote posted a perceived threat to his lab puppy while he was jogging: Governors 1, Coyotes 0. (Doesn't everybody pack heat while jogging?)

    Texas law is on his side, and how could Bachmann counter it? Shoot a cow? Or one of the hooligans invading the hubby's "clinic?" Doubt it.

  2. [2] 
    Michale wrote:

    Regarding the recalls yesterday, I don't believe it was by any means crushing, even while "a beat is a beat." But it was disappointing, so I thought maybe a little serendipity might be in order.

    I was reading some of the "Live Blogging" from a progressive site going on during the vote count in Wisconsin.

    It was hilarious... :D

    Right up until the very end, these progressives were saying, "this is going to be historic!!", "this will really be a big win for progressives!!" etc etc...

    Then, when it was announced that Democrats didn't make the cut, all the posts changed..

    "It's not a big deal" and "this loss doesn't mean a a thing!" etc etc...

    I hope none of the posters got hurt with that 180 turnaround they made.. :D

    To be fair, I am certain it would have happened if the issue was a Right issue as well..

    Political ideologues are political ideologues...

    "Your good and your evil use the same methods to achieve the same goals"
    -Yarnek, STAR TREK, The Savage Curtain

    Michale.....

  3. [3] 
    Michale wrote:

    Back then, Progressives were scoring important victories which have made all Americans' lives better ever since.

    And, back then, those victories WERE important...

    But flash-forward to today and you see that Unions have become just as greedy and corrupt as the corporations they were set up to oppose...

    In other words, in the here and now, Unions are (for the most part) part of the problem and NOT part of the solution..

    It's all about money and power, whether it's greedy corporations or greedy union leadership..

    Michale.....

  4. [4] 
    LeaningBlue wrote:

    Right up until the very end, these progressives were saying, "this is going to be historic!!", "this will really be a big win for progressives!!" etc etc...

    That was largely because the Waukesha County Clerk, Kathy Nickolaus, an up and comer in the Republican Party, held out the heavily Republican returns until the very end, so as to maximize exactly the effect on the opposition that you describe.

    But what's interesting to reflect upon is: Why was the center of the battle the 8th district? If you pull it up on a map (Wikipedia has one) and cross reference the demographics and geography, you can see why: it's a real cross section of American voters. It's the home of billionaires (yes, "b"), upper middle class and food stamp recipients; of exurban dirt farmers; of high-tech and blue collar; of displaced union workers from shuttered factories; of Rotary Clubs and college students.

    All that outside money and outside political talent didn't come just to help out the Unions and swing the balance Democrat in the state senate of what, after all, is pretty much a flyover.

    They came to see how frame things, what to do. What Plays in Pewaukee (okay, Pewaukee isn't in the 8th, I don't think. But it's a cute name in any case. And anyway, since they just got through with this year's gerrymander, it might be; who knows.)

    Chris was right in the other thread. This was much more important than Iowa, and not just because of the immediate stakes. These six districts were laboratories, but none anywhere near as much as the 8th.

  5. [5] 
    LeaningBlue wrote:

    ONLY Michale's quote was supposed to be italics. Damn it!

  6. [6] 
    Michale wrote:

    ONLY Michale's quote was supposed to be italics. Damn it!

    Remembering to close the attribute is the hardest part of all this... :D

    It comes with practice...

    Michale.....

  7. [7] 
    LeaningBlue wrote:

    Somewhat topic changing comment, but in any case:

    Quote:
    "The Lord says: Be submissive, wives. You are to be submissive to your husbands," Bachmann said at the time, according to the Post. Her campaign hasn't disputed the remarks.

    Question:
    "As president, would you be submissive to your husband?" he asked, a question that prompted the crowd to erupt in loud boos.

    Response:
    [D]ebate viewers ... immediately took to Twitter and blogs ... suggesting no male contender would ever face such scrutiny.

    Well, yeah. Yeah, I think that's right. These Republican primaries are really going to be funny.

  8. [8] 
    Michale wrote:

    Well, yeah. Yeah, I think that's right. These Republican primaries are really going to be funny.

    Anytime the bible get's involved, one can ALWAYS have "fun" with it...

    But, it's like masturbation... It's fun, but still leaves ya all sticky and gunky...

    :D

    Surely Democrats have more serious things to do, eh??

    I'm just sayin'...

    Michale....

  9. [9] 
    LeaningBlue wrote:

    Michale, you misunderstood the target of my snark.

    I have no problem with Rep. Bachmann citing the Bible's edict to obey a husband. Or anything else she might quote, or anything that Gov. Romney might quote from his holy book (no chance of that, though).

    What I was making fun of was the electorate, sufficiently informed that they would watch a debate, and sufficiently lacking common sense that they would howl that no male candidate would be asked if the dictum to obey one's husband might effect decision making as President.

  10. [10] 
    Michale wrote:

    LB,

    I stand corrected.. :D

    Michale.....

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